On April 3rd, an unidentified 16-year old girl called Texas police officials to report that her 50-year old husband had raped and abused her. She led authorities to a 1700-acre property called the Yearning for Zion ranch that housed hundreds of polygamist Mormons.
Monday’s raid of the compound yielded some 416 children and 136 women in what Texas officials are calling the “largest child-welfare operation in Texas’ history”. The women were dressed in homemade pioneer era clothing and many of them were pregnant.
It’s important to point out here that this particular sect of Mormonism is not indicative of Mormonism as a whole. It is a deviant sect, a radically fundamentalist sect that is reinforcing stereotypes Mormons and even more functional polygamists have long been trying to discourage. Warren Jeffs,the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the man who built the compound, hasn’t been making things easy.
The raid in El Dorado is only the latest in a long line of cult-like practices in Jeffs-lead churches around the United States. Jeffs himself is currently serving a 10 year prison sentence in a Utah jail for two counts of rape as an accomplice, but accusations of sexual abuse and illegal imprisonment has followed his church for years.
Every case of this abuse in itself is horrific, but this last case seems to be particularly so because of the unheard of amount of underage women involved. The associated press notes that in court documents filed by the state of Texas, these young girls were married to older men the moment they reached puberty.
“investigators determined that there is a widespread pattern and practice of the [ranch] in which young, minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them.”
Most of the young women are now wards of the state, and in addition to having to come to terms with what amounts to continued sexual abuse, they will also have to learn how to acclimate themselves in a society so tremendously different than the one in which they’ve grown up, where they were totally separated from the outside world.
Within every religious denomination, there are going to be splinter sects that range in their degree of radicalism, but it seems as though Mormonism, at least in the eyes of the media, is defined more by its extremists than it’s mainstreamists. At least more than, say, the Seventh-Day Adventists seem to be defined by the Branch Davidians at Waco or even more than the Southern Baptists and evangelicals seem to be defined by the hate speech and bigotry of Pat Robertson and Ted Haggard, respectively.
That being said, I do wonder what it is about this religion that seems to inspire so many harmfully deviant splinter sects. It could be that, as I mentioned before, the media just seems to single out Mormonism and there really isn’t an inordinate amount of these cultish compounds sprinkled around the country or it could be that this religion fosters a mindset and a culture of subjugation?